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Tea time on the fault line

By Henry Schuster
CNN

Editor's note: Henry Schuster, a senior producer in CNN's Investigative Unit and author of "Hunting Eric Rudolph," has been covering terrorism for more than a decade. Each week in "Tracking Terror," he reports on people and organizations driving international and domestic terrorism, and efforts to combat them.

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A colorfully dressed Indian Border Security Force soldier guards the India-Pakistan border at Wagha.

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LAHORE, Pakistan (CNN) -- The Pakistani Ranger lifts his legs at almost impossible angles and goose-steps aggressively towards the border with India.

You might say he looks like he escaped from Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks as he challenges gravity with his high-kicking step.

An Indian guard does the same on his side of the gate. Both have scowls on their faces.

Crowds on both sides are singing and chanting.

I'm not sure if I'm at a football match or part of a bizarre ritual, but my colleague's quip puts it all into perspective. "We're in a thermonuclear Disneyland, mate," he says.

Welcome to the Wagha border crossing between Pakistan and India, where the pageantry simultaneously underscores and belies the tensions between these two nuclear rivals carved from the same colonial heritage.

My second international border in a week (the last was between Saudi Arabia and Iraq ) is also a reminder: that the war on terrorism is only part of a much larger equation in this country and region.

T-shirts, sodas and nationalism

The daily afternoon theater known as the changing of the guard at Wagha has evolved into an elaborate ritual since Britain decided to divide its Indian colony into India and Pakistan in 1947, the leader of the Pakistani military contingent tells me.

The guards on both sides carefully choreograph their movements to the delight of those packing grandstands on both sides.

Never mind that India is one of the world's three largest Muslim communities -- along with Indonesia and Pakistan itself. Today it is Muslim Pakistan versus Hindu India. Only, to use the parlance of international soccer, this is a friendly. No blood will be shed. T-shirts and sodas will be sold instead.

Back and forth go the cheers: "Pakistan, Pakistan." "Hindustan, Hindustan." "Allah, Allah."

A man darts up the road towards the gate from the Pakistani side, waving a big flag, much to the delight of the crowd on this side. Apparently, he comes here every day after work to cheer on his fellow citizens.

It seems like good fun when you consider the alternative -- more than a million Indians and Pakistanis died during the Partition and the countries have been to war three times.

Both countries have the bomb and the have come too close to nuclear war in the last five years over the long-disputed territory of Kashmir for much of the international community.

You certainly wouldn't see the scene at Wagha replayed along the Kashmiri dividing line.

When the ceremony is all over, the Pakistani troops offer us tea and cakes, which we eat under a tent. The weather couldn't be more pleasant as we sit on the lawn.

"Tea time on the fault line," offers another colleague (they are enjoying the one-liners today).

The real fault line

The day I leave, a religious holiday marking Prophet Mohammed's birthday, a bomb rips through a crowd in the southern Pakistan port city of Karachi, killing at least 57 people.

The government says it was planted by Sunni Muslims, aimed at the minority Shiite community.

Would that that were the extent of Pakistan's problems.

There is, of course, another border -- the one with Afghanistan that is 1,500 miles long, the one that sometimes exists more in theory than reality as it snakes through mountain ranges and across a few plains.

This is the border that Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri apparently crossed from Tora Bora in December 2001 taking refuge in Pakistan's tribal areas as U.S. forces neared them.

Pakistan's central government never really had control of this area -- the British who ruled before them also failed to subdue it. And when the Pakistani army moved into the tribal areas in 2004 to root out the remnants of al Qaeda, the Taliban and its own militants, the military got a rude shock, losing more than 250 men by its count.

The list of Pakistan's troubles goes on.

An incipient tribal revolt in the province of Baluchistan. Violent attacks against the tiny Christian minority. Extremist and fundamentalist parties gaining strength everywhere.

Then there was the real fault line, the one that moved last October, an earthquake that killed more than 73,000, mostly in northern Pakistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and left entire communities destroyed.

Terrorism versus extremism

"No country aside from the U.S. has suffered more from terrorism," President Pervez Musharraf's man tells us at a briefing on another day.

Before we have tea, Gen. Shaukat Sultan reels off impressive statistics, showing the extent of Pakistan's war on terrorism, as well as its suffering.

He addresses the challenges - the difficulty in controlling the tribal areas, the daunting physical obstacles of hunting for bin Laden and al-Zawahiri in terrain that is mostly mountainous, while facing a tribal code that protects these most wanted of men.

In an interesting turn of phrase, his chart showing military casualties refers to the men who died fighting for the government as "shaheed" (martyrs) -- the same word the terrorists use when they undertake their suicide missions.

"Terrorism is physical," he says, but in his view Pakistan also suffers from "extremism, which is a state of mind."

Of course, his boss is a military dictator, a man who seized power in a coup and whose popular support is unclear.

But Musharraf is also Washington's man, praised by President Bush during his recent visit here for fighting the war on terrorism.

In the complicated ways of this region, Musharraf's supporters -- and indeed many Pakistanis -- feel he also got dissed by Mr. Bush because the U.S reached an agreement with India to share nuclear technology.

Terrorism matters here. In the days after I leave, Pakistan will announce more arrests of leading al Qaeda figures.

And the responses from al Qaeda will come, too. Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a video labeled a message to the people of Pakistan.

Musharraf is a traitor to Pakistan and Islam who has given away the country's nuclear birthright, al-Zawahiri says, then calling on Pakistanis "to strive in earnest to topple this bribe-taking, treacherous criminal."

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